Disclaimers: See Part 1
While Rachel busied herself making dinner, Trace put the items that were brought back from town away in their proper places. Finding out where everything went occupied most of the conversation between the two women and when the detective was done, she left the blonde alone in the kitchen, while she made her way to her room in the barn to remove her wrap.
Her cut was mending itself nicely but she was not used to being bound down for so many hours and her injuries, though also healing quickly, were still healing, nonetheless, and parts of her skin cinched into the binding remained tender. She was pretty sure no one would be out to the ranch so she was unconcerned about going braless. If, by chance, someone did show up, she would deal with it but right now...it would be pure bliss to free her poor corralled breasts.
Each woman separately contemplated the events of their day. Rachel was not surprised that her fear regarding Ben Crane making good on his promise to taint her virtuous name had been realized. However, being right about it didn't make it hurt any less that people actually believed it. Maybe if she kept denying it, the talk would go away. Yeah, and maybe babies really were found in cabbage patches...
She further considered the strange woman who was now living there. Just the knowledge of the existence of another person on the property - especially one thought to be a man - would stir up a hornet's nest. Trace had made a rather conspicuous entrance into the Sagebrush community by saving Jed Turner's life, an act that would be hailed by some and cursed by others. And, by ruffling the feathers of the sheriff, she was positive the tall brunette had unintentionally poked at that hornet's nest with a very big stick.
She didn't know why...but regardless of the gravity of the situation, something about that made her chuckle.
Trace reflected on the tone of the town as she had seen it, felt it. A lot tamer than what she was used to but still unsettling. The bartender liked her, as did the pawnbroker and, of course, his half-brother, The Mayor. The whore named Cassandra really liked her. But the doctor and the sheriff did not. On the other hand, His Honor and Rachel did not have good things to say about the obnoxious man wearing the badge. And everyone in the saloon seemed afraid of him.
Ed Jackson was a bad cop. If anyone could readily recognize one, it was Trace. Her lip curled into a predatory smile. She was a better bad cop. Jackson was obviously in the back pocket of the Cranes. She knew what that was like and no matter how ruthless these Cranes were, they couldn't be as abominable as the DeSiennas. If she was going to stay in Sagebrush, she wasn't going to allow herself to be restricted by anyone or anything. She glanced toward the house and sighed. Oh, yes...she definitely wanted to stay here.
She had a chance to redeem herself. Right now. Even though she wasn't in her own time where the people she hurt could benefit from it, she had the opportunity to make up for the sins of her past. If this town's above-the-law family wanted to hold the county hostage, she could deal with that. She was used to it. Except this time she would be the negotiator on the right side of the law.
As she walked back to the house, she vowed to herself that Rachel would never again have to worry about the Cranes. Talk was cheap, so she would have to prove it as she was quite sure the nineteenth century woman would never believe a female would be able to hold such an overly dominant, mighty clan at bay. But to be successful, Trace would have to get herself back in shape while learning a whole new way of life. God, she loved a challenge.
After a dinner of hearty, thick corn chowder with bacon and biscuits, which was delicious, Rachel did the dishes while Trace went to the stable to make sure the horses had enough food and water. The supper conversation was slightly strained but not in a way that represented anger or awkwardness. Both women were lost in their own individual thoughts and neither really seemed to notice the other one was not talking much.
When the detective was finished filling up the trough, she strolled outside the stable and stretched the lameness out of her bones. Movement caught her eye and she saw Rachel disappear behind the east corner of the house. Curiosity getting the better of her, Trace followed the blonde up to a knoll. Joining her on the other side of the slanted hill, the detective saw three small tombstones. Roughly etched on the stones were the names of Rachel's mother and father and Thomas Baines. Kneeling down, the blonde silently began clearing away grass growing wildly around the base of the granite markers.
"Your fiancée is buried here, too?" Trace stated the obvious with a question in her voice.
"He had no family left but mine. Not that we were any relation, of course. He was sixteen when his folks were killed coming back here on the stage. They had been in Kansas, at a service for Tommy's grandmother."
"How were they killed?" The brunette bent down and began brushing dust and dirt off the tops of the stones with her hand.
"Well, word got back to town that they were ambushed by Indians but I don't believe it. There hasn't been an Indian uprising since the plains nations got together at Little Big Horn. Least not around these parts anyway." She looked over at Trace. "That's why people aren't trying to run you out of town 'cause you look like you could have some Indian in you. Any tribes left around here are all friendly."
"So why would someone lie about how they died?"
"Because everything was slaughtered - including the horses. Even if it was a savage bunch, Indians wouldn't have done that, they would have taken the horses with them."
"Where are his parents buried?"
"They aren't. Stagecoach was set on fire, wasn't enough of them left to bury. What made everybody suspicious was it was Seth Carver came to town with the news."
Trace straightened up, rubbing the side of her neck. "Who is Seth Carver?"
"He's Jacob Crane's nephew." The blonde went back to pulling weeds. "Mr. and Mrs. Baines were also holding on to their land and didn't want to give it up. Tommy couldn't keep up with it and was forced to sell and used the money to go to law school. He was on his way back here to marry me and hang out his shingle and go into private practice. He was going to fight the Cranes, all legally, and try to stop them."
"And how would he have been able to do that with a crooked sheriff so obviously siding with the Cranes?"
Rachel looked up at the brunette. "He would have found a way. Because he had to do what was right...nobody else had the guts to."
Tears glistened the corners of the blonde's eyes and Trace could not decide if it was due to her love for and grief over the loss of her fiancée or her determination to not become another casualty of the immoral Cranes. This made Trace even more resolved to take them down.
One at a time if she had to.
The next morning showed Rachel an entirely different Trace. The detective was up with the rooster, dressed and grooming the horses before the blonde had to resort to guilting her out of bed with numerous wake-up visits, each one usually a little less friendly than the last.
In fact, Rachel was so surprised at this unexpected behavior that she nearly dropped all the eggs she had gathered when she passed the stable and heard whistling. Cautiously, she stepped inside and observed the tall brunette brushing Chief with an enthusiasm that she had not previously seen the detective display before. Consequently, the way the horse glanced over at his owner, he looked a tad nonplussed, too.
"Uh...morning...?" Rachel squinted to make sure it wasn't actually her eyes playing tricks on her.
"Good morning!" Trace responded, brightly.
Nope. Not an apparition. "Um...you all right?"
Trace smiled at the hesitancy in the blonde's tone. "Couldn't be better. Thought I'd get Chief ready and then after breakfast, I'd ride him around the perimeter and see what else needs fixing."
"You want to ride Chief?"
"Didn't you say he was the fastest and the strongest?"
"Then he and I need to get used to each other because we're going to be spending a lot of time together." Then she lightly slapped Chief's muscular flank. "Aren't we, you handsome creature?"
The blonde literally shook her head in speechless confusion. She could have swore the look in Chief's eyes said, "Help me!"
"I didn't go into the other section where your mustang is, he seemed pretty restless but I've already brushed Moses and I was going to groom Rosie but she's pretty protective of that precious little colt she's got in there. Have you named her yet?"
"No, I was waiting to see..." ...if I needed to sell her to keep the place going, she finished to herself.
"How about Zelda?"
"Zelda...I've never heard that name before."
"It's my mother's name."
"You want to name a horse after your mother?"
"Sure, why not?"
Rachel couldn't think of a reason, so she shrugged. "Um...okay, we'll call her Zelda."
"Cool. Thanks." Trace continued to run the bristles over Chief vigorously.
"Cool?" Rachel repeated, cocking her head. "It's hotter than a whipped boy's behind this morning."
"No - cool...it means, uh...it's an expression of approval where I come from. When something is cool, it means it's -" she nodded her head for emphasis, "okay."
"Then why don't you just say it's okay? You talk strange sometimes, Trace Sheridan." Smiling, she turned around, heading back toward the entrance. "Don't saddle him up before breakfast," she called back.
Rachel stopped and looked back at the brunette, flustered. "You mean 'cool'?"
"No, I mean okay, I won't saddle him up until after breakfast." Now it was the detective's turn to smile as she watched the blonde shake her head while exiting through the stable entrance.
After Trace had washed up at the outdoor pump, she walked into the house to find a very pale Rachel at the stove, holding onto her stomach.
"Still feeling a bit ill, huh?" the brunette asked, as she approached the table which held only one full plate of bacon, eggs and pancakes dripping with butter and honey and a cup of, what Trace's was sure, was criminally horrible coffee. Maybe she could use some of that honey to make a difference in the taste. Although she doubted it. She returned her attention to the greasy compilation of food that smelled unbelievably delicious and despite the amount of bad cholesterol she knew she would ingest, she couldn't wait to start shoveling it in. "I can feel my arteries harden as we speak," she mumbled, pulling out the chair. "You're not eating?" Trace asked the blonde, acknowledging the absence of a second plate on the table.
"I'm not hungry," Rachel said, weakly and ran for the door where Trace heard her retching violently off the porch.
Looking down at her breakfast with the blonde's regurgitating sound effects in the background, the brunette muttered, "Neither am I anymore."
Walking to the pantry, the detective located the container of powdered ginger and brought it back out to the table. She set the kettle onto the stove to get the water heated, then she walked out to the porch. Rachel was bent over at the waist with her hands resting on her knees. "I'm okay, Trace," the blonde rasped, not looking at her. "Go back inside and eat."
Placing her hand on Rachel's back, once again pulling the long blonde hair back away from the smaller woman's face, Trace said, "I've got the ginger out and the water boiling for you."
Managing to look up at the brunette, Rachel wiped her eyes with her apron, then ran it over her mouth. "Thank you. But I'm not so sure I can go back in there right away. The aroma is warring with my belly."
Nodding, Trace helped her straighten up and over to a wooden porch chair. "No worries. I'll bring it out to you."
"You don't have to do that..." the blonde told her, very grateful that she was going to.
Smiling at her, Trace said, "I don't have to do anything except eat, shit, pay taxes and die."
"Lord, Trace, your language..." Rachel sighed, as the detective left her to go into the house. The blonde couldn't remember the last time anyone had been this kind to her and the brunette had never met anyone she had wanted to be this kind to before.
Preparing the calming solution the way she had seen Rachel do it the day before, Trace brought a steaming cup back out to the porch and handed it to the blonde who was still looking quite peaked.
"Please go back inside and eat," the sickly woman asked of the brunette. "It's not as tasty when it's cold."
Now that there were no vomiting sounds, Trace found she was hungry again. "If you're sure you are going to be all right..."
Nodding in concession, Rachel said, "I'll be fine in a bit...soon as I get this down."
"If you keep feeling like this, maybe you should go to the doctor's."
"No," Rachel answered, quickly. "I'm sure I'm fine." Except she knew this was only the beginning and she would be anything but fine.
Following a breakfast that, despite it having cooled, was still quite palatable, Trace ate every bite, knowing she would need the energy. While Rachel, feeling better, cleaned up the kitchen, Trace perused Frank Young's closet for something less encumbering to wear than her denim shirt. It was going to be a muggy day and surely the blonde's father had something appropriate for this kind of weather.
After a cursory search she found a few dirt-stained, worn, faded cotton shirts that she pulled out and draped over her arm. If Rachel was agreeable, she would cut the sleeves off and use them to work in. She also looked over the pants hanging there. She was probably going to have to sacrifice comfort for decorum, as she was pretty certain men did not alter blue jeans to wear as shorts back then. Not that she had to worry about her legs...if she didn't see a razor soon, they would be hairy enough to look like a man's. Returning her focus to the jeans, she knew they were at least one size too big for her and she didn't think she would get any points for being trendy by holding up cut-offs with suspenders. Their next visit to town, she was going to have to buy clothes that fit.
As if Rachel had been reading her mind, the blonde addressed her from the doorway. "Those dungarees might be more suitable if I took them in a bit."
Looking up, Trace saw that she had a little more color in her face and that she was holding a rifle, the barrel pointed at the floor. Rachel gingerly ran her thumb over the Sharps' hand oiled forestock.
"You might want to take this with you. Needs to be cleaned but it was the last one I used and that was only a week ago, so it still shoots good." Rachel then jerked back the brass slide-hammer to be sure Trace would have bullets at her disposal. The blonde fingered the metal button embedded near the handle before turning it over to the detective.
"Am I going to need this?"
Rachel shrugged. "You never know. Irritating Ed Jackson probably wasn't the wisest idea. Can't have you riding into a heap of hot lead."
"No, we can't have that," Trace agreed, sarcastically. The detective examined the eight pound weapon. The .54 caliber cartridge rifle had a thirty-inch round blued barrel attached to a one-piece walnut-finished stock with three-metal bands. She noticed it had a fixed front sight and an adjustable rear sight. The overall length was about three and a half feet long. Interesting little trinket. Did she dare admit she had no idea how to shoot it? Well, it couldn't be that difficult if a little slip of a farm girl could do it. She'd take it with her and practice. "What about handguns?"
"You know...um...a revolver, a, uh, a six-shooter..."
"Oh, the Colts. Sure but I thought you might want something that could reach past six-gun range."
"Good idea...but I am more used to using a handgun, a six-gun, than I am a rifle." She drew a deep breath. "Actually, I'm a little rusty at both. I've been traveling a while and I could use some practice."
"Oh. I don't have a lot of extra bullets but you're welcome to what I have."
Setting the Sharps across the bed, Trace thanked the blonde with a nod. "You said I could help myself to anything of your father's that fit. I found these shirts and - "
"Oh, I meant to take them out of there, cut 'em up and use them for rags."
"Can I have them?" Off Rachel's addled expression, Trace explained her plans for the shirts and why. With the blonde's blessing (and her shears), a half hour later, the detective had some sleeveless garments to work in.
Unconsciously, the blonde's eyes were glued to the muscular arms of the brunette as she watched Trace saddle up Chief with very few mistakes. The detective was quite a breathtaking specimen of womanhood and someone the blonde should not have felt so infatuated with. Rachel automatically blamed these disquieting feelings on messed up hormones. It certainly couldn't be anything else.
Rachel watched, amazed, as the brunette heeled the big horse to a canter, as though she had been doing it all her life. When Trace and Chief were out of sight, she went back inside the house to start her chores. Maybe she'd bake a damson pie today, wondering if Trace liked plums.
Despite the trouble she had growing inside her, why did she suddenly feel like she had a life again?
The detective was pleased at Chief's cooperation. Maybe just like any other male she had dealt with in her life, she had to show him who was in charge by letting him think he was the boss. Chuckling at that, Trace headed back to the house after discovering three minor wear and tear breaks in definite need of immediate repair before they became worse.
Fortunately, she had not needed to use the rifle but because of Rachel's 'light' warning, practicing until she became proficient with the Sharps and the other firearms was no longer a choice. However, she held off on target practice because she did not want to waste ammunition when she might actually need to defend herself. She would take a trip into town, using some of the money she got from the rings and either buy bullets or the materials she needed to load her own.
In the meantime, this afternoon, she would learn the joys of splitting rails
Under Rachel's direction, Trace found the tools she needed in the barn - an
axe, an eight-pound sledgehammer, and three four-pound wedges. Carrying the
implements to the gathering of logs behind the house, near the wooded area
close to the river, Trace had figured out she needed fourteen rails to fit
into holes in the still standing posts. She was going to use Moses to help
her move the logs from the pile onto the ground where she had access.
After Moses had pulled four logs free of the stack, Rachel took him back to the stable while Trace assessed the amount of work ahead of her. She needed to split the wood into four sections as even as she could get them. Returning to observe, the blonde stood back, crossing her arms, anticipating the worst. She knew Trace had never done this before and was praying the detective would sport the same number of fingers and toes when she was done that she did when she started.
The tall brunette followed the blonde's instruction and looked over the unsplit timber for knots so as not to drive her wedge through one, Rachel telling her that hitting a knot tended to split the wood crooked. Trace placed the wedge vertically in the exact center of the butt end of the log and tapped it in with the mall until it stuck. Lifting the sledgehammer over her head, the detective brought it down in a straight square blow that jolted her from her toes to her teeth. Recovering from the shock of that, Trace saw where the log had cracked a good two feet from the end.
"Hey - look at that! Not bad, huh?"
Rachel couldn't help but smile at Trace's undisguised thrill at what she had done. When the brunette leaned down, reaching for the wedge, the blonde said, "Use another one. That one's stuck."
"Stuck? Did I hit it too hard?"
"No," Rachel laughed, "you did just fine. Put a second one there." She pointed to the end of the crack. "Hit it again like you did the first one and you should open that original split another two or three feet. That should free that wedge there," she pointed to the first one, "so that you can leapfrog it to keep splitting it until the trunk breaks into two halves. Then you just split the halves."
Doing as she was told, Trace split the trunk into four nearly equal rails. Two hours later, panting like a work horse, she had cut sixteen rails, had blisters that stung like they were on fire and an upper body ache that rivaled her first week at the police academy.
Wiping her brow with the back of her arm, she set the mall down, admiring her work. Yes, her arms and her back were killing her but looking at what she had just accomplished made her quite proud of herself.
An ice cold beer would have tasted great tight now...
After Rachel had placed her pie on the porch to cool, she thought it might be a good idea to check on the detective, to see how she was doing. Again, she was a bit startled at the fact that Trace was on her last rail and she admonished herself because it should not have surprised her. The brunette had already proven she was as robust as any man and had muscles as taut as her rotund grandmother's corset laces. It was watching those firm, nicely defined muscles shift beneath Trace's skin as she wielded the sledgehammer that provoked another accelerated heart rate in the blonde.
Approaching the detective, Rachel held out the cup of water she had brought out for her. Nodding her thanks, Trace took the small tin container and tried not to gulp the cool liquid down too fast, regardless of how dry she felt. As Rachel took a step closer, Trace smiled. "I wouldn't get too close if I were you...or at least stay upwind of me."
"Nothing wrong with a good earned sweat," the blonde commented as she inspected the rails. "I do think you just may have a calling for this kind of work."
"Thank you...but," the brunette responded, scrutinizing her own hands, blistered and bleeding, "I don't think I want to do this too often. Haven't you ever heard of plywood?"
"Of course, I have. Plywood's been around since the days of the Pharaohs. But why pay money for what we already have?" She gestured to a forest full of trees behind her. "You should notch those rails a little so that the fence will fit tight."
"I think I'll wait until tomorrow...my hands are a little raw now..."
Stepping closer, Rachel took Trace's hands in her own and examined them carefully. "I thought you were wearing those gloves of my father's?"
Regardless of the burning soreness, she enjoyed the small blonde touching her in any manner. "I was but they were too big and kept slipping. That's what started the blisters in the first place."
Sighing, Rachel shook her head. "You're awfully tender-fleshed." Looking up at a raised eyebrow of the taller brunette, the blonde added, "for someone who's supposed to fight outlaws."
"Yeah? Well, give me a couple weeks and I'll amaze you with these hands," Trace commented, innocently, then stopped. She closed her eyes, mentally kicking herself. Hopefully the blonde wouldn't take that out of context.
"I'm sure you will," Rachel answered her in a tone of voice that came out much huskier than she had intended, absently running her thumbs lightly over the brunette's fingers. Locking gazes with the detective, the blonde audibly swallowed and abruptly dropped the Trace's hands. Slowly pulling her eyes away from the much too engaging blue ones, Rachel bowed her head and stared at the ground. "It'd be better to notch 'em now. Tomorrow your hands will hurt too bad." She began walking away and then called over her shoulder, "When you're finished, come on to the house, I'll fix you up."
"Thanks." She watched the blonde leave. Well that was interesting, Trace thought. What the hell was that about? She didn't think the smaller woman had been flirting - at least not consciously. But when the moment was realized, what did she see in Rachel's jade eyes? Definitely not disgust. It could have been fear. It was indeed shock but at what? She easily read uncertainty in the blonde's expression. Yet it was difficult for Trace to decide if Rachel was offended, bewildered or, dare she hope, curious, by her own behavior.
She would have to gauge her interaction with the smaller blonde carefully. She in no way wanted to overstep any boundaries and she breathed a sigh of relief that she had not resorted to being her often obnoxiously bold self. That worked fine for her in her time but it would not bode well here.
Trace shook it off. Of course Rachel wasn't interested, it was dehydration mixed with wishful thinking. The poor woman had been through so much and Trace's sudden appearance in her life and the unusual circumstances under which they were sharing space had to be confusing, at the very least. You need to keep your damned libido on a short leash, Trace! Her sudden surge of frustration motivated her through scoring both ends of each rail until fourteen out of sixteen were done.
Rachel could not have gotten inside the house fast enough. When she knew she was completely out of the detective's sight, she braced herself by holding onto the back of a chair and let out the breath she had been holding since she dropped the brunette's hands. What in heaven's name had just happened out there? Had she just made a subtle overture toward the detective? No. No, she couldn't have, she wasn't like that, she did not think about women like that. She had heard about women like that and no, she definitely was not one of them. She couldn't be. She had been engaged to be married, she was in love with her fiancée. She liked kissing him, being in his arms and had dreamed of...other things...they might do together. No, it was settled. She was not that kind of woman. It must be her innards being all messed up that made her feel all crazy inside.
Yes, that must be it...hormones must have been making her belly flutter and heart clench whenever the tall woman entered her vision. It must be knowing deep inside that Trace was a protector that made her feel so safe in the detective's presence. Had to be that baby growing inside her discombobulating everything in her body and head, making her feel a kind of kinship, like she had known this woman her entire life. That and her desperate loneliness. Trace had unknowingly filled a gap in her life she hadn't even admitted was missing until she realized that if the detective moved on, everything would be twice as empty as it had been before. How odd when she had only met this woman days ago.
Embarrassment burned in the blonde's cheeks. Good Lord, what must Trace have thought? Well, obviously the detective wouldn't think anything peculiar about her, she reasoned, the brunette knew she had been engaged. She comforted herself with that information and smiled. She moved to the stove and put the water on to boil before gathering what she would need to address Trace's blisters.
When Trace walked into the house, she smelled two distinctly different aromas other than herself. One was the freshly baked sweetness of a fruit pie with brown sugar and the other was the rather overpowering scent of garlic.
The blonde was busy at the table using a granite mortar and pestle to crush fresh cloves of garlic and was heating olive oil in a small iron pan.
"Let me guess...pasta Italiano for supper and apple pie for desert." the detective cracked. In response she received a blank stare from the blonde.
"I didn't think you would want supper after the late lunch just a couple of hours ago."
Although it was true, Rachel had prepared them a very filling meal just before Trace split the rails, the detective had worked up an appetite and was a little disappointed, especially with the smell of garlic in the air. She suddenly longed for a huge dish of shrimp fettucini alfredo.
"Would you do me a favor and take the kettle off the fire? I thought we might have some tea with our pie...and it's not apples, it's damson plums."
Doing as Rachel had asked, Trace said, "I've never had a plum pie before but it smells delicious." Both were secretly grateful that what had happened in the yard was obviously not going to be mentioned. "And the garlic...?"
"...is for your blisters."
"For my -?" She stopped herself before finishing. In the short time she had been there, she had learned to not question the blonde's methods of healing.
"I'm going to make an oil to rub onto the blisters and I have a comfrey salve to put on the open sores. If you don't rub it all off before or during sleep, you hands should feel better by morning. We'll see how they look tomorrow."
Trace poured and steeped two cups of tea while Rachel cooked the garlic and olive oil concoction for five minutes, let it cool and then strained it into a small jar, letting it sit before cutting two slices of pie for herself and the brunette.
"Mmmm, Rachel, this is wonderful," the detective complimented, with a mouthful of pie still not swallowed. "You really are an excellent cook. And baker."
"Thank you," the blonde blushed. "I thought you'd like it."
Nodding, Trace took another bite and was glad they were having tea instead of coffee. Sooner than later, she needed to ask Rachel to please allow her to make the coffee...so far, it was the only thing the adorable blonde didn't do obviously well.
Because of what had occurred between the two women that afternoon, Rachel advised Trace of how to treat her blisters instead of doing it for her. It was difficult to keep her hands to herself, however, as she had always been quite demonstrative. And for some reason, she was compelled to touch this woman, to the point where she almost had to sit on her hands.
It was dusk before the solution had seeped in and started drying. As the sun set, Trace watched as Rachel lit candles in every window, lit the parlor lamp and took up her sewing. She began mending one of her dresses when she noticed the detective had found an old deck of cards and started to play solitaire at the table.
"How do your hands feel?"
"They burn a little but," Trace smiled, turning a card over, "I'll live." She looked up at the blonde. "Tell me about Sheriff Jackson."
"Ed? Other than him being an insufferable know-it-all, more crooked than the letter S, pretty adept at manure-spreadin' and having an abundantly abysmal personality, what would you like to know about him?"
Chuckling, the detective turned over another card. She didn't know why she bothered to play solitaire, she never won. "What's he like when he's backed into a corner?"
"That doesn't happen very often. Only strangers who don't know him think they can do that and they don't stay in town too long. Billy the Kid rode through one day. Went to Wilbur's for a couple of shots of whiskey before moving on. Seems Ed didn't know who he was and behaving like he normally does, thinking he can bully anybody he wants because he's working for the Cranes, made the mistake of sticking his finger in the Kid's face."
Billy the Kid. Wow. Trace thought he was just a folk legend. "So what happened?"
Obviously tickled by this story, Rachel almost giggled. "Billy grabbed him by the finger and, um, shall I say 'escorted' him out to his horse, shoved the barrel of his six-gun practically up Ed's nose, demanded he mount up and some of the boys the Kid was riding with accompanied Ed out of town, acting like they were going to kill him. Well, obviously they didn't but I don't think Ed's saddle dried out for months." Shaking her head, Rachel tied off her thread. "Ed don't know what to do when he runs up against men who aren't scared of the Cranes. And nobody - especially not the Cranes - are going to go up against Billy The Kid, so Ed was on his own." The blonde looked over to see Trace move a card to be able to lay another one on top of it. "Trace Sheridan! Did you just cheat at solitaire?!"
Looking up into the surprised green eyes, Trace half smiled. "Why, yes, I believe I did."
"Doesn't that hurt your conscience?"
The detective mulled it over for a half-second and shrugged. "Nope." Of
all the things that should have bothered Trace's conscience, cheating at any
card game was not even in the top one hundred.
Although Rachel seemed perfectly fine at breakfast, Trace awoke to the sounds of the young woman intensely heaving in the middle of the night. When the detective sat opposite her at the breakfast table, other than being a little pale, she seemed fine. Whatever Rachel had, it was a strange kind of bug.
The brunette had also awakened to her blisters having drained and dried and her cuts were closing up. Her hands were sore but not like they would have been without Rachel's natural remedies. The blonde's advice to notch those rails yesterday was wise. She wasn't too sure she would even be able to hold a hammer today much less swing one. Which also meant she wouldn't be able to grip a gun so target practice was also out. But she still might be able to look them over and clean them.
Laying the two Colts, the Winchester and the Carbine on an old tattered cloth on the table, Trace studied them before dismantling each weapon as best she could while Rachel brought her the cleaning equipment she would need to complete the task. She was used to much more advanced paraphernalia but even as archaic as the materials were, they were still basic enough to get the job done. Plus this would help her to get to know these guns before she actually had to shoot them.
Even though she did not normally shoot a revolver, she had been required to familiarize with them at the academy and, along with her automatic service weapon, she had been timed in taking them apart and putting them back together in working firing condition.
Basically, Trace found the guns to be in pretty good shape but with exception of the Sharps, they were all quite dirty and dusty. While the detective was cleaning and oiling the Carbine, Rachel tended to the household chores.
It almost felt blissfully domestic, Trace thought as she ran a long brush resembling a pipe cleaner with a thyroid condition, a tiny, well oiled patch of cloth affixed to the end, through the individual chambers of the cylinder of one of the Peacemakers. She did all the "butch" things while the blonde prepared the meals, washed dishes, pots and pans, did the mending, darning, sweeping, dusting, making the bed, washing, ironing, refilling the lamps and building fires in the evening. She smiled at the thought of Rachel being her "wife." Then immediately choked on saliva that went down the wrong pipe.
"Are you okay?" the blonde asked, quickly getting out of her chair, grabbing a cup and stepping over to the pump to fill it with water.
Putting a hand up to indicate she was all right, Trace nodded, coughing, finally getting control of her automatic body functions of breathing and swallowing. "I'm fine...really..." She accepted the water and took a few sips. Where the fuck were these ruminations coming from? Wife? Just the word make her choke again, provoking the blonde to pound her on the back. While Trace was recovering, she widened her eyes at Rachel, surprised that such small hands could pack such a painful wallop.
Moments later, when it was clear the detective was going to live, after Rachel had reseated herself and Trace had gone back to her weapon cleaning, the brunette revisited the thoughts that caused such a reaction in her. What was going on? She had never entertained any desire to get attached to or settle down with anyone. Ever. It just wasn't in her make up. Sneaking a glance at the lovely yet troubled blonde, two words crept into her head: until now. She was suddenly dizzy and needed some air.
Her standing made Rachel look up at her, once again a concerned expression crossing her innocent features. "Are you sure you're okay?"
Nodding, feeling a little awkward, Trace said, "Uh...yeah. I think the fumes of the bore oil are getting to me." She pointed toward the door. "I'm just going to step outside for a little bit."
Watching her leave, the blonde just stared after her. Trace was awfully pale, like she had just seen a ghost. If Rachel hadn't known any better, she would have thought her morning sickness was contagious. She shook her head and went back to sewing.
Outside, Trace took several gulps of air. She had not even known Rachel a week, she could not have possibly developed feelings this deep for her. And yet...the thought of the blonde not being there provoked a numbing emptiness inside her that was beyond explanation. 'No, no, no,' Trace thought, 'this isn't happening, I am not falling in love, I am not falling in love...' Yet when she closed her eyes, her only images were of Rachel and the different things the blonde did, different expressions she wore in reaction to different situations and a fond smile appeared on the detective's face and a warmth surged through her she had never felt in the past. 'Fuck me to tears,' the brunette thought, sighing helplessly, 'I'm falling in love.'
Great. Now what? Talk about closeted...she was living in an era where she was pretty sure there had to be jail sentences for homosexuality and if there wasn't, whatever punishment the town took into its own hands had to be severe, if not deadly. Fortunately, no one had a clue that she was a female, so that particular issue was not a problem. No one but Rachel. The only one who really mattered to her.
She began to pace, chewing on her lip. What was she going to do? It was different when it was just lust, that was old hat to her, it was emotionless...but love? She'd never been in love before but she somehow knew that there was a point of no return in that phase which is why she always fought against it. She couldn't be in love with this woman. Rachel was straight and naive and sweet good, not at all the type of woman the detective was used to hooking up with and the very idea of Trace having these kind of feelings for her would, no doubt, horrify and terrify the poor girl. In reality, it terrified Trace. She thought she had gotten past having 'things' for heterosexual women years ago...although, she never had much of a problem with curious, straight women... But the blonde was different. Regardless of what happened yesterday.
The detective realized that she had a powerful presence, that she could be intimidating and she could pour on the charm without even trying. Trace had always been a very successful flirt, especially when it came to attractive women. It was second nature to her. But she was always in control. Always. Now she felt anything but in control as far as Rachel was concerned. This had never happened before. Which brought up another reason for the brunette's panic.
"This was such a mistake," she reflected, quietly to herself, "I should have stayed and took my chances with the DeSiennas." Even though she knew, had she made that decision, she would probably be dead by now. Maybe she should just leave. She had enough money to buy a gun and a horse, hell, she could even steal one or two of Rachel's guns and one of the horses. She leaned against a post, crossing her arms over her chest, looking down at the weathered wood of the porch floor. Of course she wouldn't do anything to bring this wonderfully kind and noble woman any more pain and strife.
And what would be the consequences of her moving on? The benefit being that somewhere she might be able to find a place to settle down where her sexual proclivities would be welcomed by a woman or two. The problem, however, was that they wouldn't be Rachel.
The harm of moving on heavily outweighed that measly personal advantage. The blonde would be alone again and defenseless. What was left of her livestock and crops would probably be destroyed. She would be forced to give up her home. And Trace would appear as though she was kowtowing to the sheriff's 'request' and falling in line behind the rest of Sagebrush and allowing the Cranes to run her life. She inhaled deeply. If she did not permit that with a much more powerful twenty-first century crime family, she would be damned if she would allow it with a group of nineteenth century rubes.
"Trace?" The voice interrupted her train of thought and she looked up to meet innocently inquiring green eyes. She wondered how long the blonde had been there, watching her. "Are you all right?"
Christ, she was beautiful, the brunette mused, committing Rachel's face to memory. Trace smirked. "Yeah. I'm fine. Thanks." And when the blonde returned a relieved smile, the detective knew right then and there she would never leave this woman.
To Be Continued...
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